Gary Williams often used to comment on the Atlantic Coast Conference's North Carolina orientation. Beginning with the 1990 season, the ACC men's basketball tournament has been held in North Carolina four times as often as it has been held anyplace else. Williams wouldn't have minded some more northern exposure.
Williams is retired now, but Maryland and Boston College -– he coached in both places -– got some northern company with the word that Pittsburgh and Syracuse are joining the ACC.
An ACC tournament in Madison Square Garden? ACC commissioner John Swofford said today the conference would be remiss not to consider it. Madison Square Garden, of course, has long been central to the identity of the Big East, so there's plenty of symbolism there.
With its strengthened northern tier, the ACC is losing some of its sweet tea, Waffle House and barbecue southern flavor.
But that's a tradeoff the conference will happily make in exchange for strengthening its position by placing two more pins on its Eastern Seaboard map.
There is sort of a "devour" or "be devoured" mentality in big-time college athletics these days, and the ACC wants to ensure its survival. "Viability" was the word Swofford used. He said he never feared the ACC was about to be picked apart. But he also said he's never been through such a period of shifting and uncertainty as we're all witnessing now in college sports.
The inclusion of Pitt and Syracuse means the ACC has the right to go back to ESPN and renegotiate its television deal – and acquire more revenue for the now 14 member schools. "We're confident that will have a positive impact," Swofford said.
What we don't know is exactly when Pitt and Syracuse will become part of the new conference, how the divisions will be configured and when expansion will stop.
Swofford said the ACC is "comfortable" for now with 14 teams. But he said a double-digit number of schools has expressed interest in pledging the ACC's fraternity-sorority. Significantly, he said the conference is not "philosophically opposed " to becoming a 16-team conference. He declined to discuss Texas or others (UConn? Rutgers?) that could become new members. Expansion isn't new to the ACC, of course, so it has some experience to draw upon.
Maryland is one of seven original ACC members. A large part of Maryland's sports identity has been shaped by its basketball battles with Duke, North Carolina and the other ACC schools.
As part of its efforts to stay "viable," I'm guessing the ACC' will get bigger and healthier and wealthier while trying – as best it can -- to preserve old traditions and rivalries that long characterized it.